When it comes to verbs, reflexive verbs make up about 30% of the most common verbs Spanish speakers use in their daily conversations. As a result, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of reflexive verbs, so you’ll feel more comfortable when using them.
For that reason, in this article, we’ve compiled some general rules that you need to keep in mind when using reflexive verbs in Spanish.
Rules for Reflexive Verbs in Spanish
The rules for reflexive verbs are separated into two lists, as there are two sets for rules for using them in Spanish:
These sections will give you a fundamental understanding and overview of the rules, but if you need further explanation or more examples, you’ll find related resources that will deep-dive into each set of rules at the end of each section.
Rules for When & How to Use Reflexive Verbs in Spanish
1. Reflexive pronouns are used to indicate that the subject of the sentence is performing an action or activity on or to itself.
Adrián y Efrain se pusieron una cobarta roja
Adrian and Efrain put on a red tie
2. A reflexive verb always works with a pronoun. Unlike personal pronouns, this reflexive pronoun cannot be omitted.
(Yo) Me desperté temprano
I woke up early
3. There is a reflexive pronoun for each person (1st person singular, 2nd person singular, etc.). When conjugating, you need to match the subject of the sentence with its corresponding reflexive pronoun.
Emma se cepilla el cabello
Emma brushes her hair
4. In Spanish, most regular verbs have a reflexive form. However, not all verbs can be reflexive. In order to have a reflexive form, a verb needs to be accompanied by an object.
Doesn’t have an object: it doesn’t have a reflexive verb
Nosotros trabajamos en esa oficina We work at the office
Does have an object: It can have a reflexive form
Ella se baña en las mañanas She bathes in the mornings
5. Reflexive verbs can be used to talk about: daily routines, personal care activities, reciprocal actions, and changes of status such as relationships, physical conditions, emotional states, and state of mind.
Carolina se enojó conmigo
Carolina is mad at me
Rafael se divorció el año pasado
Rafael got divorced last year
Esteban se afeita todos los días
Esteban shaves every day
6. Reciprocal verbs are very similar to reflexive verbs. Reciprocal verbs indicate that two or more people are performing an action on each other. As a result, they always work with plural forms.
Rafael y Carolina se besaron
Rafael and Carolina kissed (each other)
Related Resource: How & When to Use Reflexive Verbs in Spanish
Rules for Reflexive Verbs: Pronouns & Conjugation
1. The reflexive pronoun is always placed before the conjugated verb.
¿Por qué te pusiste mi sueter?
Why did you put my sweater on?
Marisol se quemó la mano
Marisol burned her hand
2. With negative statements, the pronoun is placed between ‘no’ and the conjugated verb.
¿Por qué no te pusiste mi sueter?
Why didn’t you put my sweater on?
Marisol no se quemó la mano
Marisol didn’t burn her hand
3. In order to conjugate a reflexive verb, you need to identify the verb’s ending: .ar, -er, -ir. Then, you will conjugate using the endings of each specific group.
4. Since reflexive verbs follow the conjugation of its non-reflexive form, the reflexive verb will also need to follow stem changes or other irregularities.
|Regular Verbs||Reflexive Verbs|
|Pongo los trastes en la mesa|
I put the dishes on the table
|Me pongo los zapatos|
I put my shoes on
|Mi mamá viste al bebé|
My mom dresses the baby
|Tú te vistes muy bien|
You dress very well
5. With positive commands (imperative), the reflexive pronoun needs to be attached to the conjugated verb.
¡Ya báñate! Se nos va a hacer tarde
Take a bath now! We’re going to be late
Séquense las manos, por favor
Dry your hands, please
6. As a negative statement, in negative commands, the reflexive pronoun will be placed between ‘no’ and the conjugated verb.
Alicia, no te levantes temprano
Alicia, don’t wake up early
No se pongan vestido porque van a tener frío
Don’t wear a dress because you will get cold
7. In sentences with more than one verb, the reflexive verbs can be either used in its infinitive or gerund form. In this case, the pronoun still needs to match the subject and it can be either placed before the conjugated verb or attached to the reflexive verb.
|Claudia se está bañando|
Claudia is showering
|Claudia está bañándose |
Claudia is showering
|Tú te quieres bañar|
You want to shower
|Tú quieres bañarte|
You want to shower
8. Spanish reflexive pronouns have their English equivalent: myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, themselves, yourselves. However, these pronouns may not always be used in the translation.
Ustedes se quitan los zapatos
You guys, take your shoes off (yourselves)
Nosotros nos limpiamos las manos
We clean our hands (ourselves)
Related Resource: How to Conjugate Reflexive Verbs in Spanish
There’s no doubt that reflexive verbs can be a challenging topic for both new and experienced Spanish speakers. But if you know some basic rules, you should feel more comfortable using them.
For that reason, in this article, we gathered some general rules for reflexive verbs that are related to conjugating and how to use them. We learned that a reflexive pronoun is always needed and that its placement will vary depending on the tense that you use.
Additionally, we also discussed that reflexive verbs are mainly used when a subject is performing an action on itself. Some of the most common contexts where you can apply these verbs are when talking about daily routines, personal care activities, emotional states and change of status.
Hopefully, now you have a better idea of the rules you need to follow when working with reflexive verbs.